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Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy
17 November 2020

"Counter-democracy" and democratic oversight

Our research team comments on the themes of our interview with Pierre Rosanvallon, now available in English.

What is the state of democracy today? Is democracy able and prepared to respond to global issues such as global warming? What is the role of citizens in facilitating the response by governments and other political actors? Is political violence compatible with democracy? At which level – local, national or transnational – are mobilisations most effective?

These all-important questions are addressed in our interview with leading scholar of democracy Pierre Rosanvallon, Professor at the Collège de France. To open up a conversation across languages and approaches, we have translated the interview to make it available with English subtitles and have published the first subtitled segment last week. We will publish one subtitled segment per week in the next four weeks, alongside specific commentaries from the Centre’s interdisciplinary research team.

The original interview was conducted in French by IHEID alumnus Alexandre Lercher at the Collège de France in the context of the 2020 Geneva Democracy Week. The Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy is actively involved in this initiative promoted every year by the Geneva Chancellery of State. This year’s theme was “Democracy and alter-democracy.”

Pierre Rosanvallon, who coined the term “counter-democracy” (often used to refer to “alter-democracy”), explains that the term is “a little provocative”: “what counter-democracy means is that democracy isn’t just defined by its institutions, democracy isn’t just defined by voting, it is also defined by the role of the citizen.” For climate policies to be enacted, the “role of citizen oversight and pressure is absolutely decisive”. Professor Rosanvallon stresses it is essential citizens not simply follow climate politics but engage with them actively and critically: they must “experiment and generate expertise and keep an eye on the authorities.” Rising levels of political violence across the world, he continues, are however a sign of ‘democratic malaise’.

Each interview sequences is commented upon by members of our research team. Junior Visiting Fellow Laura Bullon-Cassis and Research Assistant and Anthropology and Sociology Department PhD Candidate Livio Silva-Muller, have responded to the first interview segment. Read their commentary on the first thematic sequence of the interview HERE.

On the second interview segment, Postdoctoral Researcher Lipin Ram and Research Assistant and International Law PhD Candidate Juliana Santos de Carvalho have contributed with commentaries relating political violence and democratic practices. Read their commentary and watch the second sequence of Professor Rosanvallon’s interview HERE.

The work of the above commentators speaks to the Centre’s research pillar on democratic processes, mobilization and accountability.

The remaining three segments of the interview, to be released weekly with English subtitles, will address the following themes: local democracy; gender and political representation; and democratic innovations.

Democracy, counter-democracy and climate action: Interview with Pierre Rosanvallon (Part 1)